Friday, December 14, 2012

Efficiency task force to call for review of collective bargaining laws

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

A task force appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to study ways of making schools more efficient plans to recommend a review of state laws that give teachers collective bargaining rights, the governor's office confirmed Thursday.

While details of the proposal are not known, the action opens the possibility that state legislators could follow the lead of legislatures in Wisconsin and Ohio that have stripped teachers and other public employees of collective bargaining rights.

Brownback's School Efficiency Task Force held its final meeting earlier this week to discuss what items will be included in its final report.

The Kansas Association of School Boards reported in an email newsletter to its members that a review of the state laws governing teachers unions would be among the task force's recommendations.

"Several members of the Task Force indicated superintendents believe teacher-negotiated agreements limit management flexibility," KASB reported in its newsletter.

Ken Willard, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education who chaired the task force, declined to discuss the details of the panel's report until it is finalized and delivered to the governor.

But Brownback's press secretary Sherriene Jones-Sontag confirmed Thursday that a review of the Kansas Professional Negotiations Act would be among the task force's recommendations.

Officials at the Kansas National Education Association did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Last year, the Kansas House passed a bill called the Equal Access Act, which KNEA officials said was aimed at weakening the power of teachers unions.

That bill, which died in the Senate, would have given all "professional associations" the same rights as a collective bargaining unit to recruit members at new teacher orientations and other meetings, and to solicit teachers through the district's email and physical mail boxes.

That would have included associations that exist mainly to sell liability insurance and offer professional development, but that do not negotiate contracts or represent teachers in labor-management disputes.

The Kansas Association of School Boards recently adopted a legislative agenda for the upcoming session that calls for a limited revision of the Professional Negotiations Act. That group wants to remove teacher evaluation protocols from the list of items that, by law, are subject to collective bargaining.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for KASB, said that was based on concern that the state will soon move to a new system of accrediting schools that could make school districts more accountable for student growth and achievement.

If the state is going to do that, he said, many districts may need more flexibility in how they evaluate teachers and reward them with tenure.

Under terms of the state's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, all Kansas districts will have to adopt new evaluation protocols that hold teachers accountable for student improvement.

The Kansas State Department of Education is developing a model system that districts can use.

The Lawrence school district, however, does not plan to use the new state program but instead is developing its own evaluation protocol.